O’Connell students in Arlington call space on a ham radio

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It’s not every day that an astronaut traveling around the globe on the International Space Station can speak directly with high school students. The connection was made Nov. 8 for students at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington.

O’Connell teacher Melissa Pore, whose amateur radio call sign is KM4CZN, used her expertise and connections to arrange the call to the International Space Station through a program called ARISS — Amateur Radio on the International Space Station.

“It’s National STEM Day, so it’s fun to capitalize on the day,” said Pore. “To see students excel and do things I never could — I never had the door open to me. I am here to open doors and provide more pathways to the students, more opportunities to engage not just in traditional lecture style, but with all hands-on engineering classes. The excitement is infectious between us all.”

Before the call, various people spoke to the students.

“As a child, my generation was fascinated by what was being accomplished in space exploration,” said Joseph E. Vorbach, head of school. “Thanks to Mrs. Pore for her advocacy and enthusiasm. I believe it is a great gift from a teacher to a student when the teacher shares their love of learning.” 

Mark Steiner, an ARISS team member, explained the program and introduced students to ham radio.

“(Students need to) be curious about how technology works, why it works and get involved so they can help develop new technologies and keep things moving forward,” he said.

 

Due to the positioning of the ISS, the only way to make contact was through a moderator in Atlanta who connected to a ham radio operator in California, who made the ultimate connection to astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor on the ISS.

Auñón-Chancellor received questions ahead of time from O’Connell students. They asked if she can see the autumn leaves — no, but she could see snow.

What they do in their free time — watch movies, eat meals together.

Auñón-Chancellor said a favorite is looking out the window. Recently, they saw a thunderstorm in Africa from their vantage point.

After the event, Pore’s students heard from representatives from Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN), to learn about their work and internship opportunities.

O’Connell’s engineering club, formed last spring, has grown from six to between 30 and 40 people.

Six of the club’s mission managers participated in a panel discussion at the ARISS international meeting in College Park last month, where they were asked to provide student perspectives on this program.

Thomas Leggitt, a member of the engineering club, was excited about the link up with the ISS. “I wanted my classmates to see that being interactive with space and learning about it can happen in many ways.” 

Pore, who holds an amateur radio technician license,has provided ground support for the International Space Station Amateur Radio at NASA in Maryland. She teaches engineering and cybersecurity and sponsors the engineering club, which includes satellite launches, underwater robotics, and Amateur Radio.

Pore hopes other diocesan schools will apply for an ARISS contact.

“It’s a free program to any school that applies,” she said. “Interested schools can contact me.” 

Find out more

Contact Melissa Pore at mpore@bishopoconnell.org

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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